Toxic Workplace Cultures -- Can Organizations Recover from Them?

Just this past April, Seth Allcorn published a new book entitled Managing Toxic Leaders and Dysfunctional Organizational Dynamics: The Psychosocial Nature of the Workplace, which explores work-life dynamics and the effects toxicities and dysfunctions have on members of organizations.

When I spoke with Seth this past week, I asked him: “How can organizations deal with toxic cultures and recover from them?” Here is his complete response: 

Leaders and organization members can become contributors to creating a toxic workplace that includes a wide range of dysfunctions and oppressive organizational dynamics that limit creativity and productivity. This is regrettably common and limits what the organization can achieve. Healing a toxic organizational culture begins by acknowledging its presence. This opens it up for inspection, “What is it like to work here?” However, like many if not most organizational problems, calling an organizational toxic culture into question can threaten leaders who may be a part of the problem. Organization members may also identify with these leaders and contribute their own harmful behavior. This process of “selecting-in” to these organizational dynamics by organization members creates a like-minded group who defend the toxicity. As a result, when striving to create positive change, a sense of threat may arise for advocating for change. Even so, taking up this challenge is to be applauded. However, the threats associated with creating change may lead to engaging a “disposable” psychosocially informed organizational consultant. 

The consultant should begin by first listening to organization members and then locate a meaningful and as near as possible non-threatening plan for change to avoid resistance to change. If the sense of threat is not too great, a group of motivated organization members may step forward to support the consultant and facilitate the change process. The consultant should also, after listening to a cross-section of organization members, engage the leadership group in a discussion of the findings and facilitate their development of a non-defensive plan to respond to the findings. The plan should be designed to safely engage everyone in a process of no-fault change. The direction of the change process should be toward creating a more open, inclusive, collaborative, trusting, and respectful culture.

What do you think of Seth Allcorn's perspective? Have you worked in organizations in which the culture would be considered toxic? Did the organization take steps to improve it? Was it successful?